History of Brown Township, Franklin County OH

From: History of Franklin County, Ohio
By: Opha Moore
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka - Indianapolis, 1930


Brown township lies along the western line of Franklin County, directly west of the city of Columbus. Its southern length abuts the National Road and the Pennsylvania Railroad traverses it from east to west, but no villages have grown up within its boundaries. Its western length lies along Big Darby Creek, its boundaries being Madison County on the west and part of the north, Washington Township on the remainder of the north line, Washington, Norwich and Prairie on the east and Prairie Township on the south. Brown Township was slow in development, although settlements were made along Big Darby Creek as early as 1810. The final organization was not effected until 1830, it being made up of parts of Washington, Norwich and Prairie. Naturally the water course first attracted settlers and there were farms laid out along Big Darby as early as 1810. These Darby bottoms have proved to be wonderfully productive, but the eastern part of the township was very sparsely settled as lath as 1840, although it has since developed into the finest kind of farm land. Among the early settlers were Adam Blount, James Boyd, Joseph Belchey, John Patterson, John Hayden, Knowlton Bailey, James Rinier, Obil Beach, Adam Reese, Thomas Kilgore, John Lloyd and Charles A. Holmes. Henry C. Adler, another early settler in Brown Township, was a grandson of the famous Jonathan Alder, who as a boy of nine years was captured by the Indians, adopted into the Shawnee tribe, raised among them and married to an Indian woman. After Wayne's victory Jonathan Alder returned to civilization, effected a separation from his Indian spouse and married a white girl from Virginia. He settled on Big Darby in Madison County and from him descended most of the numerous persons of that name in Madison and Franklin Counties. Henry Alder built the first frame house in Brown Township. On his farm were two prehistoric forts. In fact throughout the township, along Big Darby, were numerous earth remains of the race of Moundbuilders, all trace of which has for the most part been destroyed by the operations of agriculture.

In 1847 a settlement of colored people who wished to give their children an opportunity to receive an education was made in this township. The heads of families in this settlement were for the most part freemen from Virginia, and they received some encouragement from the Abolitionists, but their venture failed and the settlement was scattered before the civil war.

It was in Brown Township that the inspiration came to J. R. Davis for the invention of the locomotive cowcatcher, that contrivance which has been adopted almost wherever the railroad has extended. Mr. Davis was a resident of Columbus, a man of inventive genius and technical ability. He made the model for the first locomotive run on the Panama railroad, superintended its construction and ran it on its first trip. He long had a little machinist's shop on West Broad Street, near Front in the city of Columbus, in the window of which he displayed this model.

When the Columbus & Xenia Railroad, now a part of the Pennsylvania system, was completed, Mr. Davis was employed as chief engineer. The railroad organization was then so simple that he also ran a locomotive pulling a passenger train between Columbus and Xenia. The fences in the forties of the nineteenth century were all worm rail fences in the rural districts, and in considerable stretches there were no fences at all. Cattle ran wild and there was hardly a trip between Columbus and Xenia on which a wild bovine was not impaled on the railroad irons which, sharpened, protruded from the front of the locomotive as a sort of guard. The result was invariably a delay of the train and, as Mr. Davis described it, a "nasty mussing up of the front of the locomotive." Often the train pulled into Xenia or Columbus with a large part of the carcass of a bovine bumping along the right of way, transfixed by the locomotive guard, for it was sometimes too difficult to remove the obstruction at the place of the collision.

On a spring morning Mr. Davis was driving his locomotive westward through Brown Township when he noticed a farmer breaking sod alongside the right of way. Mr. Davis noted how smoothly the soil turned from the share and the thought struck him that a double plowshare, built on lines large enough for a locomotive, would solve the problem of a guard. As soon as he had completed the round trip he went to the shops of the company in Columbus, and, making a drawing of what he wanted, had the original cowcatcher constructed. It was attached to Mr. Davis' locomotive and he took the throttle on the trip to test his invention. The general officers of the railroad accompanied him on the trip, occupying the engine cab. The eastern part of Brown Township was still largely covered by woodland, in which roved cattle left to grow up as they could on the pasturage of the forest. They were literally wild cattle. A young and ambitious bull planted himself on the railroad track and, with mistaken daring, awaited the conflict with the oncoming locomotive. Of course the poor bull lost the battle, but he was swept to one side in a way that instantly demonstrated the value of Mr. Davis's invention. One of the general officers remarked

"That thing is surely a cowcatcher."

And the name was immediately adopted and it has never been changed. The contrivance was attached to every other locomotive on the company's line and its use extended rapidly to all railroads in this country and finally to those in the other countries of the world. There has never been a change in it except as to size and the addition of the coupling bar, which was made by Mr. Davis himself. As was the fate of most inventors of the day, Mr. Davis was never paid a dollar of royalty for his useful invention. It was not even patented. The inventor died in Columbus in the last decade of the nineteenth century, a very aged man.

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